published Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Educator Ron Clark rouses Chattanooga area teachers for iZone launch

Look them in the eye.

That's the advice to local teachers from renowned educator Ron Clark.

Don't teach to the chalkboard or the promethean board. Make eye contact with students to start developing a relationship with them and foster learning.

Developing eye contact is among an arsenal of weapons Clark gave to more than 780 teachers, nonprofit representatives and parents vowing to fight for the academic success of Chattanooga's children.

All are participants at the Hamilton County Department of Education's Innovation Zone summer institute.

The institute is a precursor to the launch of Chattanooga's Innovation Zone when school starts next month.

The goal is to improve five of the state's lowest-performing schools: Brainerd High School, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle, Dalewood Middle and Woodmore Elementary. They make up the iZone.

Strategies from a longer school day to higher pay to draw the best teachers will be used in an effort to help hundreds of students in the five schools improve.

Many of these students lag far behind achievement levels in other schools and often face poverty and other social obstacles as well.

Innovation Zone Director Le Andrea Ware said the school system chose Clark to speak because he exemplifies what it means to see barriers as opportunities.

"He's lived it," said Ware. "He has the results to show this can be done and it will be done."

Orchard Knob Middle School teacher Whitney Bradford attended and liked what Clark had to say.

"I wish I had a video of it," Bradford said. "There are so many good things I can glean from."

Bradford said she plans to look her students in the eye and tell them that she loves them.

The two-day educational pep rally started Monday and also included speakers like former Howard High School principal Edna Varner and former Southfield, Mich., educator Dr. Anthony Muhammad.

But the main event was Clark.

LESSONS FOR TEACHERS FROM RON CLARK

1. Look students in the eye.

2. Create an atmosphere of love and joy.

3. Teach to the smartest child in the room, then do whatever it takes to motivate other students to reach that level.

4. Don't give awards to all students because they participate. Set a standard and give them the award when they reach it.

5. If you don't show kids love, you don't have the right to fuss at them.

6. Show appreciation for even the smallest contributions.

7. "Here is my biggest pet peeve. When I have an issue with a staff member, the last thing I want to hear is, 'Well in my defense ... 'I don't want to hear your defense. I want to hear, 'I got it. It won't happen again.'"

The New York Times best-selling author wrote The Essential 55, The Excellent 11 and The End of Molasses Classes, which detail his educational experiences and theories. He is founder of the Ron Clark Academy and was the 2000 Disney Teacher of the Year. He also was the subject of a 2006 made-for-TV movie, "The Ron Clark Story" that starred Matthew Perry.

Clark, 41, is a graduate of East Carolina University, through the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program.

Lesley Scearce, executive director of the nonprofit On Point, which helped fund Tuesday's event, introduced Clark and discussed the importance of caring for children.

"Kids will flourish and not fail," she said. "Every child deserves to be the sparkle in someone's eye."

Before Clark took the stage the song "Y'all Ready For This" banged through the speakers while teachers and parents stood, cheering and clapping. Then a video showing excerpts from Ron Clark Academy flashed on the screen.

"No F's in my class," Clark could be heard saying to a student in the presentation.

Afterward a nimble Clark leaped from the audience to the stage.

"I can feel the passion in this room," he said. "We're causing a revolution."

Part of Clark's experience included teaching 37 students in New York City's Harlem district. All had behavior problems and tested below grade level. But by the end of the school year, his class outscored some advanced placement students on standardized tests.

Every teacher, nonprofit representative and parent in the room vowed to help students in their school do better.

Everyone participating in the retreat had to walk on soft red carpet to enter the Brainerd BX meeting room where the rally was held.

Clark did body waves, sang rap songs and answered questions for more than an hour, emphasizing to educators and parents the importance of enthusiasm and being willing to reach outside of the norm to make learning fun.

"It's not just about books," he said. "It's about energy and excitement."

He told the audience how he sparked children to read literature by dressing up as a character in the book and joking with students while they studied. He taught velocity using double Dutch jump rope and he had students search for and execute math problems while wearing sunglasses as he played James Bond music.

These were fifth-grade math students who were testing below grade level when the class started, but by the time it ended, they were doing eighth-grade math.

Create an atmosphere of love and joy in schools, said Clark. When you have that, kids will be successful.

The day ended with "The Price Is Right" music playing as several teachers ran down the aisle to receive door prizes, food certificates and gift cards. Orchard Knob Middle School was the big winner of the day.

Five people from the school, an administrator and teachers, will visit and learn the teaching styles at Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6431.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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